Recently we were asked to answer a few common questions on meditation for a local yoga conference. Many people are first introduced to meditation through yoga, so we took a few minutes in between making cushions to consider the questions. Below you will find the questions and our responses.
Four Questions About Meditation
1. Why is it important to have a regular time and space for a meditation practice?
When you have a regular time and space, it is simply easier to do it and not miss it. Our lives are so busy that it is all too easy to skip meditation. With a regular place and a regular time, there is a better chance that we will actually meditate.
With a regular space and time, it becomes a part of our lives in a different way than if it’s irregular. It becomes woven into the fabric of our lives and it becomes a habit.
When we meditate regularly and not just when we feel like it, we get the opportunity to work with all of ourselves. When we meditate when we are sad, angry or distracted, all of it, we have a chance to work with our whole selves. Of course this can be frustrating, but this is part of the practice
2. Do I need to be spiritual or religious in some way in order to meditate? Can I meditate if I am?
No, you do not have to be either. Yet, for some people meditation is a part of their spiritual or religious life. This is not required. Meditation in itself can help people in many ways. One example is in the field of mindfulness stress-reduction. Another is in the work of newscaster Dan Harris, who promotes meditation practice in a non-spiritual or religious way through his 10% Happier Meditations.
That said, meditation and silent prayer are part of just about every religious tradition in the world.
3. Is it normal to have a wandering mind, or unpleasant feelings come to the surface?
Yes! We human beings are special because we have learned to think and this has given us wonderful benefits. The only trouble is that we haven’t yet learned to stop thinking. And so it is natural that we will have a wandering mind at first.
Part of meditation is simply watching that wandering mind, allowing it, but also trying not to follow it unconsciously.
When we meditate, our minds start to slow down. Little by little and over time we feel less of a compulsion to follow wherever our mind leads.
In terms of unpleasant feelings, this is quite normal as well. Sometimes when we get still, feelings that we have long buried or covered up in the course of our busy lives, may rise to the surface. It can be helpful to know that this will most likely happen. Longer meditation retreats can be challenging for this reason. We open ourselves up to anything to come. Yet, by doing this, we have a chance to accept the difficult or broken aspects of ourselves and transform them into compassion.
4. How do I select a style that suits me and my stage of life best and most effectively?
I think we learn what works for us by trying. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. See what you are drawn to and try. There is no wrong place to start. For instance, you may want to try a meditation app or a guided meditation. There are many of these available.
At some point, I believe it is important to find a group, a congregation or a sangha. This social, communal aspect can be an essential support to an ongoing meditation practice.